I didn’t have much faith formation as a kid. Sure, I went to catechism like most everyone else in those days but I don’t remember learning too much. I was a very shy and sensitive child and for some reason my best friend, Annette, and I were put in different classes – hers marked “A” and mine “B.” I can still remember the first day of orientation in the school gym, sitting in the bleachers with my class, in which I didn’t know a soul. I cried and told the teacher the sun was in my eyes. I can still see it clearly, blurred through my tears.
I remember Annette later talking about the “actacontrishon.” I didn’t know what it was. That’s how it sounded to me. I tried to look it up in the dictionary but got nowhere, unaware that it was actually three words she was saying and too embarrassed to ask her and show my ignorance. After all, I was in the “B” class and thought that was already a label of inferiority. Strange things go through the minds of sensitive children.
I left catechism after my confirmation which took place in 5th grade back then. And when I say after, I mean right after. Didn’t finish out the classes for that year. I’d graduated and didn’t need to be bothered with that any more.
But in my teen years I became more and more curious, especially about the saints. So one day in the Farmer’s Market I found a booklet on the saints in the religious store. Yes, our Farmer’s Market had a religious store, a pet store, a carousel, a sausage maker, and office supplies – all under one roof (oh, and yes, vegetables and fresh mozzarella, of course). It was a strange but wonderful little world I inhabited as a child.
I got home and eagerly started to read about the saints. It was a small book geared toward children so each story was only about a page or two at the most. Nearly every story described a wonderful person, often young, who ended badly by either beheading, being burned alive, or some other such horror. I stopped reading about three quarters of the way through, mystified how that could have been geared toward small children. I didn’t know too much about the world but as a sales pitch I thought that was rather flawed. Who would actually want to sign on for that?!
With God’s grace and many fortuitous circumstances I was drawn back to the Church and learned about the faith as an adult with a new perspective. The saints became more than just little vignettes but real people who I would like to emulate. Their demise, however it came, became less an object of horror for me and more just a part of their story. Their entrance into heaven eclipsed whatever sad end they endured.
Living as a contemporary of modern saints like Mother Teresa is a great privilege, especially in our media age. Media certainly has its down side but this one area is certainly where it has its perks. Her passing in the shadow of Princess Diana’s death was to me, such a testimony to God’s goodness and mercy. Not one to seek the spotlight, sneaking her out amidst the pageantry of Princess Di’s funeral was a grace I’m sure she deeply appreciated. She lived simply and passing into eternity, I would guess, was something she preferred to do in the same way. When else would it not have been the top story? That’s not of course to imply that the world didn’t take notice…it certainly did, according her a state funeral in India, a predominantly Hindu country speaks volumes about the impact she made there and throughout the world.
The juxtaposition of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa was striking. The beautiful fairy tale princess, beloved in Britain and around the world, was the epitome of beauty and grace. Her struggles made her more real, relatable, and tragic. And then there was Mother Teresa – diminutive, wrinkled, and in her simple sari. And yet her beauty was stunning in the truest sense of the world. Her love, her philosophy, and her actions startled a world so obsessed with physical beauty, so enamored with the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Saints and sinners alike were taken aback by her life and example. Stories abound of those drawn into her orbit, volunteering in her missions, and having their lives changed forever.
As we celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa this weekend (so exciting!!), let’s reflect on that…are we “stunning” anyone – stopping them in their tracks by our goodness, our love, our humility? Sure, looking our best is fine. We should make the most of what God has given us. Sometimes He accords physical beauty as a lure to draw others into our orbit. Nothing wrong with that…but where we lead them once they’re drawn in makes all the difference. In this world that is spinning more and more out of control, being a sign of hope, of a life lived with faith is needed now more than ever. Mother Teresa showed us the way. Let’s get out there and stun the world, or at least those around us! Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.
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